Creator examines the protoype
Prototypes are used to determine whether a design will work and to make any necessary adjustments before spending your valuable budget on mass production. — Getty Images/chabybucko

A prototype is a functional, not final version of a product or service that businesses can use for testing, to solicit feedback, and to introduce to investors before officially launching to a wider market. Prototypes are used to determine whether a design will work and to make any necessary adjustments before spending your valuable budget on mass production.

Prototypes can take many forms. Some prototypes are simple wireframes for a website design; other versions are made from common household items to demonstrate the idea; still, others are high-fidelity versions of a final product that could quickly be finalized and brought to market. The type of prototype you create depends on your budget, goals and expertise. This guide will outline the various options for creating a prototype for your product or service.

Considerations before getting started

The approach you take to creating a prototype depends on certain conditions. There are many ways to create a prototype, from working with a third-party design firm to using Play-Doh yourself to give someone an impression of your idea. Before you get started, think through these questions:

  • How much do you want to spend? Outsourcing your prototype to a professional firm can cost anywhere between a few hundred dollars to $100,000. If you choose to create your own prototype, you can use 3D printing, modeling clay or something called Shapelock, a plastic prototyping material that retails for around $15.
  • Who is the audience for your prototype? Investors want to see a close-to-perfect model of your product or at least one that illustrates your ultimate goal. But, if you’re simply soliciting feedback from friends, mentors and coworkers, you can keep it simple.
  • Where are you in the design process? It’s not worth creating a close-to-perfect prototype if you think there will be many adjustments to the design. Wait until after you’ve collected feedback from various sources to develop an advanced prototype.

[Read more: 10 Innovative 3D Printing Business Ideas]

With these questions in mind, here are some ways to create prototypes for new products and services.

Investors want to see a close-to-perfect model of your product or at least one that illustrates your ultimate goal. But, if you’re simply soliciting feedback from friends, mentors and coworkers, you can keep it simple.

How to create a product prototype

The process of creating a prototype may mean you end up with multiple mock-ups, drawings and models. The goal is to iteratively bring your idea to life.

“When you make your first prototype, it’s about bringing your idea into the world to see if it can actually be made. Then, as you progress in the prototyping process, it’s about examining the strengths and weaknesses of your product by comparing it to what else is out there,” wrote the experts at Masterclass.

Start by creating sketches of your product idea. This can help you envision the size and shape as well as the materials you might need to design the product. From there, move on to creating a simple version with low-cost materials. “Remember, there are no rules! Give yourself permission to experiment. Look around the house and select materials that you can use to test to see if your idea works,” wrote Entrepreneur.

At some point, before you move on to an advanced prototype, you’ll want to protect your intellectual property. Ask employees, testers and partners to sign an NDA, and consider filing a patent for your design.

[Read more: How to Protect Your Intellectual Property]

How to create a service prototype

A service prototype is slightly easier to create since you won’t need to find materials or make sketches. A service prototype considers the before, during, and after of the customer experience.

What’s difficult about a service prototype is boiling your design down to the basic things you need to test. “Figure out what elements of your service are necessary to show potential users what their experience would actually feel like, and eliminate the rest,” wrote IDEO. “For instance, if you want people to feel welcomed to an experience, you might spend more time designing the human-to-human interactions, and less time figuring out the design of the space where the interactions take place.”

Think about the people, space and virtual or physical objects you need to make this experience match your vision. Then, test each of these things individually to find the combination that works best for customers.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published September 01, 2021